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  • Sarah Wymer

The gyms are finally open - but do we want to go back!?

Updated: Jun 16

On Sunday 22nd March 2020, Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison announced from midday on the 23rd March, all gyms would indefinitely close to stop the spread of COVID-19.


I had feelings of worry, confusion and uncertainty. Before the pandemic struck, I would spend two hours a day at the gym. It was my source of escapism and vital for improving my mental health and physical well being. It was the only time of day that I didn't have to spend marking, worrying about research manuscripts, listening to my kids cry or think about 'real-world problems'. Call me selfish, but it was essentially my only "me" time. When the first announcement had been made, I could not imagine a world without attending the gym and I was eagerly awaiting the announcement for facilities to reopen.


On Sunday 31st May 2020, Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk announced gyms could reopen (with COVID safe plans) following a major easing of COVID-19 restrictions.


Once again, I had feelings of worry, confusion and uncertainty. In the past two months, I have adjusted to the 'new normal' and now am hesitant to return.


I recently undertook some very informal research and polled my Twitter and Instagram community;

If you were a regular at the gym pre-COVID, will you be returning when they open or cancelling and adapting to a new normal at home?

Out of 59 respondents across both platforms, 35 responded that they would no longer attend the gym and happy to work out from home. One noted


"I have been loving how much more time I have now I don't go into the gym to exercise. I have cancelled my membership for now".

It appears I am not alone, with over just over half of the respondents transforming and adapting their exercise habits in a post-COVID world. Why are we less inclined to return to the gym once restrictions ease? Whilst it is essential to continue to workout and continue a love of fitness as a major part of my life, what that looks like in the post-COVID world has caused confusion. I have put together some of my thoughts for both sides of the argument as I consider the future...


I acknowledge my personal experience with fitness is unique. I understand there are many women who may have feelings of intimidation and judgement in the fitness environment or not feel confident inability or motivated to workout from home. Therefore, the following is based on my personal experiences and feelings.


Option 1: The 'new normal' - home fitness


Time Management

As the acronym "WFH" has become part of our daily vocabulary, we have adjusted our environment to be accessible within our safe home environments. One thing that has been a notable positive from this period was the concept of time. We no longer have long commutes to work, we don't have to physically drive to a fitness facility to exercise, we have 'extra' time and due to the increased (?) workloads at home we have had to become creative towards how we spend this time.



Pre-COVID, I would drive and drop the kids to daycare, spend an hour commuting to work, another hour commuting home, stop at the gym for a workout and rush to pick the kids up before the final pick up time. Exercise was often something that had to be 'squeezed' into my daily routine and often a logistical nightmare if the kids were sick or traffic was bad and I missed my 'window of opportunity'.


During COVID, I have been able to walk the kids to daycare, work out at home - all before I start work for the day. I even have time to run - something I never had 'time' for before! It has become something that is no longer exhausting and squeezed into my routine, limited by a short window of time. It now is focused on a positive experience to create a sense of achievement allowing concentration on tasks throughout the day.


Creative Freedom

Rather than being limited to what is on offer at my gym that day, in a limited time frame or small window of classes, thanks to social media, I now have the ability to access a wide variety of workouts from gyms and fitness centres across the world at the touch of my fingertip.


I have enjoyed the creative freedom to be able to craft workouts that I "feel" like doing. I know this would not be a strength or enjoyable for many, however it has allowed new opportunities to push myself outside of my comfort zone.

The rise of 'free' programs has been apparent during this time and it will be interesting to follow whether the expectation for free content will continue in a post-COVID world, or will these organisations look to monetize and move operations back into facilities.

Furthermore, our fitness communities have now expanded. Previously our fitness circles were limited to those we may see in the gym, and often little to no communication is made. You may smile as you enter the facility, but headphones are on as you enter 'the zone' while you work out. COVID has opened a virtual community of online friendships. I have shared multiple workouts on my Instagram profile (which I would never have done pre-COVID) and created friendships with people across the world in "WOD" community groups or through Crossfit related apps that allow for competition and benchmarking.



Financial Concerns


In the past 10 weeks, my partner and I have both had gym memberships on hold. In that time, we have saved over $700 combined in gym membership fees. Whilst this is concerning for many fitness facilities in terms of sustainability, it is no secret that the COVID environment has caused job security concerns for many of us. Therefore, as we have the ability to work out from home, it raises questions on 'essential' spending;

Do we really need to pay for a service that we can satisfy the need of exercise for free at home?

Investment of Equipment


Just as quick as that the announcement of fitness facilities would be closing hit the news, it appeared every fitness equipment manufacturer in Australia just as quickly sold out of their equipment. Australians have invested large amounts of money in creating gyms in their own garages, spare rooms and backyards.


Personally, we have gone from a garage with a skipping rope and a baby-mat turned gym floor into this...


As I type, I am waiting on a delivery of a barbell and plates to add to our ever-growing garage. I also drove 30 minutes south yesterday morning to pick up a box jump, so "I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious". The money we were investing in the weekly gym subscription has allowed us to reinvest into our own equipment to showcase healthy habits to our children in the safety of our own home.








With that being said, on the other hand...


Option 2: The 'old normal' - returning to the gym


Whilst the decision to cancel my gym membership seems simple from the previous discussion, it leads to another side of the argument. COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of the purpose of the gym. It extends beyond fitness, it is no longer a place you go to 'sweat', but represents a much deeper relationship that can not be replicated in a home environment.


Social Community



When the novelty of the gym wears off and the motivation starts to waiver, the sense of social connection is important. The gym environment provides an opportunity for friendships which start to feel like family. The people we sweat alongside daily, we often see more than family and as such, this fights off feelings of social isolation and a sense of accountability. Whilst you may not feel like turning up at 6 am to workout, you know your friends will be there, and therefore feel accountable - maybe not for the exercise, but the conversations pre and post-exercise.


Furthermore, WFH environments can be lonely. At the start of the year, I made the decision to not to return to my 'safe' job and took the risk to be a consultant (not the wisest move had I know that this would occur). However, as such, I have worked from home for the majority of 2020. If I don't attend the gym, there are often times I would not talk to anyone (apart from my kids) all day, and have no social interaction. The gym has become an important part of this social experience, and has allowed a strong sense of family which I would miss if I was not to return.


Expert Advice


The increase of social media for fitness during COVID-19 is interesting to watch. As previously noted, I have used social media to find and share workouts, benchmark against other people around the world and connect with a wider fitness community. Although we have seen a rise in Zoom or live streaming for personal training during social distancing regulations, it is hard to replicate the face to face experience that fitness trainers can provide in terms of form correction and experience.


There are also a number of risks with people taking training plans online that may not be suitable for skill levels and no 'experts' (or people claiming to be 'experts') providing relevant scaling options. In a CrossFit online community, I have seen numerous people citing injuries and health risks after completing "Murph" over the COVID period. If this had been completed face to face, there would be scaling options and professional advice to ensure the safety of participants.


I am sure I could set up mirrors in my garage, a tripod to film my technique and ask for advice in an online community, but you can not replace the face to face technique and expert advice that can be provided face-to-face in real-time.


Escapism


As previously noted, the gym is my only "me" time. If I do not go to the gym - I often do not leave the house. There is something about "switching" on when you are at the gym, knowing you having a limited time frame to get your workout done that provides a higher level of motivation. While working out at home is great for flexibility, it can be a lot slower as I know that I have nowhere to go and therefore take my time between sets or browse my phone procrastinating looking for music.


Furthermore, it is good to be able to get away from the four walls where I spend all my time. Physically leaving the home stops the kids coming into the garage, wanting to be lifted up, a snack between sets or crying their sister is not letting them use the hairbrush (ah girls...). The gym provides a level of escapism, providing a break from responsibility and creating a sense of vitality.


To gym or not to gym - that is the question?


Therefore, as the gyms gradually reopen their doors in Queensland this week, it leads me to wonder, what are you going to do? Will you be cancelling your membership and adapting to your new normal home environment, or will you be back to your routine pre-COVID and resuming fitness at the gym? Let me know in the comments below!

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